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NBA Schedule 2020-21: Team-by-Team Record Predictions and Playoff Odds

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) celebrates with Anthony Davis (3) during the second half in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The 2020-21 NBA schedule has finally arrived. 

Well, half of it. 

The NBA's reconfigured schedule for the season will feature 72 games, beginning on Dec. 22. The schedule is slated to have significantly reduced travel to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. 

The Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to defend their NBA championship amid notable changes to their bubble roster. Anthony Davis signed a new five-year, $190 million max contract to lead the franchise likely well past the LeBron James era, and Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol all arrived in free agency to fortify arguably the league's deepest roster. 

The Los Angeles Clippers again look like the Lakers' biggest on-paper threat in the West but have understandable questions after a shocking second-round collapse. Ty Lue replaced Doc Rivers as coach, and the team lost Harrell and JaMychal Green in free agency, but added 2018-19 champion Serge Ibaka to the team built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.  

Elsewhere, the understandably desperate Bucks tried to fortify their roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo by acquiring Jrue Holiday. Antetokounmpo can be a free agent next summer and is yet to sign his supermax extension offer.

With the league releasing the schedule in halves to give itself flexibility amid the COVID-19 pandemic, here's a look at each team's odds and predictions for the 2020-21 campaign. 

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Eastern Conference

1) Milwaukee Bucks (53-19); playoff probability 100 percent; +550 (bet $100 to win $550)

2) Philadelphia 76ers (46-26); playoff probability 100 percent; +2400

3) Brooklyn Nets (46-26); playoff probability 100 percent; +600

4) Miami Heat (42-30); playoff probability 95 percent; +2000

5) Boston Celtics (41-31); playoff probability 95 percent; +1600

6) Toronto Raptors (39-33); playoff probability 80 percent; +2200

7) Indiana Pacers (33-39); playoff probability 50 percent; +10000

8) Atlanta Hawks (32-40); playoff probability 45 percent; +10000

9) Orlando Magic (31-41); playoff probability 35 percent; +12000

10) Washington Wizards (31-41); playoff probability 35 percent; +10000

11) Chicago Bulls (28-44); playoff probability 15 percent; +13000

12) Detroit Pistons (27-45); playoff probability 5 percent; +24000

13) Cleveland Cavaliers (23-49); playoff probability 0 percent; +25000

14) Charlotte Hornets (21-51); playoff probability 0 percent; +16000

15) New York Knicks (13-59); playoff probability 0 percent; +25000

Playoff probabilities and records estimated by author. Title odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

We already know how the regular season is going to play out. Barring injury, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will flex their muscles against the Eastern Conference, dominate with their depth and strong coaching and run their way to an easy No. 1 seed.

The presence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn isn't changing anything. Durant and Irving are coming back from serious injuries. They're far more likely to play in the 55-game range even if they stay fully healthy—especially with the NBA adding more back-to-backs in this shortened season. The Nets' goal is to have their two stars (or perhaps three if they find an amenable trade) healthy and in shape for a deep playoff run.

The Bucks, meanwhile, should coast much in the same way they have the previous two seasons. Their real test won't come until the playoffs, when we'll get to see whether the acquisition of Jrue Holiday was enough to put them over the top.

The Sixers are the East's most undervalued team. After a nightmare 2019-20 campaign, they finally have a roster that makes sense around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and a coach in Doc Rivers whose guiding hand and leadership should make a difference in Year 1. Doc couldn't stop his Clippers teams from collapsing in on themselves during the postseason, but the Sixers were tuning out Brett Brown last season; they'll see a bump based on having a respected new voice.

Beyond those three teams, the East remains a bit of a mess. 

The Celtics and Raptors are worse than their 2019-20 counterparts. The Heat are essentially the same but were a No. 5 seed last season. Their discipline in the bubble environment may matter less now that the NBA is attempting something closer to a "normal" season. 

The Hawks think they're better but may be setting themselves up to be the season's most disappointing team. No one can make any possible sense of the Pistons' offseason. I may have been kind in projecting the Knicks to win 13 games.

By the time the playoffs come, the East should have coalesced into a three-team race. 

Western Conference

1) Denver Nuggets (51-21); playoff probability 100 percent; +1600

2) Los Angeles Clippers (49-23); playoff probability 100 percent; +650

3) Los Angeles Lakers (47-25); playoff probability 100 percent; +270

4) Portland Trail Blazers (46-26); playoff probability 100 percent; +5500

5) Houston Rockets (44-27); playoff probability 100 percent; +7000

6) Utah Jazz (43-29); playoff probability 100 percent; +3600

7) Dallas Mavericks (42-30); playoff probability 80 percent; +2200

8) Golden State Warriors (39-33); playoff probability 55 percent; +2500

9) Phoenix Suns (35-37); playoff probability 45 percent; +5500

10) New Orleans Pelicans (33-39); playoff probability 25 percent; +8500

11) Memphis Grizzlies (30-42); playoff probability 20 percent; +10000

12) San Antonio Spurs (29-43); playoff probability 15 percent; +13000

13) Sacramento Kings (27-45); playoff probability 5 percent; +13000

14) Oklahoma City Thunder (22-50); playoff probability 0 percent; +13000

15) Minnesota Timberwolves (21-51); playoff probability 0 percent; +12000

Playoff probabilities and records estimated by author. Title odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

The Nuggets aren't the best team in the West. That distinction goes to one of the two Los Angeles teams.

However, Denver does appear best equipped to stay the course and push for the top seed in the regular season. Load management is a given with Kawhi Leonard at this point. The Lakers seem destined to give LeBron James and Anthony Davis significant time off early in the season to keep them fresh for the playoffs. 

That realistically leaves Denver (maybe potential spoiler Portland) to grab the regular-season mantle. The Nuggets are brimming with confidence after a bubble run to the conference finals. Nikola Jokic is an interesting MVP flier if Giannis fatigue sets in, while Jamal Murray will look to continue his Orlando star turn. 

Michael Porter Jr., at times frustrating and others captivating, may hold the key to their season. If Porter is able to emerge as a third star next to Jokic and Murray, that +1600 will look like an even bigger bargain by July.

The strength of the West is in its depth, where a fascinating race for the final two playoff spots will play out. The Suns view themselves as playoff locks after being bubble darlings, but where is the opening? With the Rockets seemingly steadfast in their desire to keep James Harden, the only available spot will be given by the departing Thunder. Most have that slot earmarked for the Warriors, though their hold may be tenuous after Klay Thompson's season-ending injury.

The race for seeds 4-9 will be fascinating—especially with the No. 6 seed having more inherent value 2020-21 due to the new 7-10 playoff. 

Injuries (and potentially COVID-19) will ultimately be the biggest determinant. For now, though, it looks like the most interesting regular-season slugfest in recent memory. 

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